The magnificent Palma Cathedral

If you ever visit the island of Mallorca (Majorca), Spain you will have seen the magnificent Catalonian Gothic Cathedral that dominates the skyline of the islands Capital, Palma. This towering Cathedral, which ranks at the 4th most beautiful Cathedral in the world! Overlooks the harbor in the oldest part of the city, and is dedicated to San Sebastian, Palma’s patron saint. The foundation stone was laid on New Year’s Day 1230, and it was laid on the site where previously a mosque stood, so it faces Mecca rather than Jerusalem.

The Palma de Mallorca Cathedral or “la Seu”, as it is known in Mallorca (Majorca), is the jewel in the crown of Mallorcan architecture. Apart from being one of the most famous Gothic buildings in Europe, it represents Mallorca (Majorca) and is a symbol of the whole of the Balearic archipelago. It is considered one of the most magnificent buildings ever built and encompasses almost all artistic styles since the Middle Ages.

The Cathedral has its origins at the very beginnings of the Christian takeover of the island, back in the 13th Century. In the autumn of 1229, King James I and his men sailed to the island to defeat the Arabs and it was on his crossing that the see of the cathedral was sown. A storm rages so violently during the 3 and a half day journey that the young King feared for his life, so he made an oath to God, promising, should his enterprise succeed, he would erect a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary. He was lucky, not only did he arrive safely, but he also defeated the Arabs. And as a God-fearing Christian he did not forget his promise, and quickly set about putting into practice his oath.  As mentioned earlier the foundation stone was laid the following year (1230) and faced towards Mecca, in doing so King James created an all-time historical paradox; anyone kneeling at the altar in Mallorca’s Cathedral does so in the direction of Mecca like a Muslim, not, as should be the case for a Christian, towards Jerusalem. World on the Cathedral was not completed until 1601, when the main façade was completed. The vast central vault is 144 feet high, its columns tower to a height of 65 feet, it has one of the world’s largest stain glass windows containing 1,236 pieces of glass, and measuring 39 feet across. Twice a year an extraordinary display of light is created inside the cathedral by the sun, because of the architectural genius of the cathedral’s creators. On the 2nd February and the 11th November, at around 8am, the rising sun shines through the massive stained glass window on the east side of the cathedral, and casts a huge multi-coloured display just below the rose window on the opposite end of the cathedral, 400 feet away. On other days of the year it just casts this wonderful shadow down into the main central vault of the cathedral. The photos below show this magnificent cathedral and the shadow.

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How an Airbus A330 Aircraft became a Glider..

Tonight is a story about Air Transat Flight number 236 from Toronto, Canada to Lisbon, Portugal. On Thursday 24th August 2001,  293 people boarded the Airbus A330 aircraft owned by Canadian Airline Air Transat to fly from Toronto to Lisbon, in addition to the 293 passengers there were 13 crew members on board piloted by Captain Robert Piche. The aircraft departed from Toronto on-time with 46.9 tonnes of fuel onboard, more than enough to make the non-stop flight to Lisbon.

4hrs 28 minutes into the flight a cockpit warning system chimes and warned of high oil pressure in engine number 2 – the Airbus A330 has two engines, one under each wing. The captain and co-pilot suspected that it was false warning as everything else was showing normal. 4hrs 36 minutes into the flight and the pilots received a warning of fuel imbalance, not knowing at this point that they had a fuel leak, so they following the standard procedure to remedy the imbalance by transferring fuel from one wing to the near-empty tank on the other wing. Unknown to the pilots, the aircraft had developed a fuel leak in a fuel line to the right hand engine. The transferring of fuel to correct the imbalance only made the problem worse by wasting fuel through the leak in the engine on the right hand side. The leak, which averaged 1 gallon per second, caused the initial warning of a pressure problem because of the increased fuel flow to the engine that had the leak in it.

4hrs 45 minutes into the flight – The pilots decide to divert too Lajes Air Base in the Azores as they are still unsure at this stage if they have a fuel leak or not.

5hrs 13 minutes into the flight – While still 135 miles from Lajes Air Base, the right hand engine shuts down because of fuel starvation, Captain Piche orders full thrust from the remaining engine, starts to descend from 39,000 feet, and declares an emergency with Azores air traffic control.

5hrs 23 minutes into the flight – The crew send out a mayday as they realize that although the right engine has shut down, the fuel tank was still feeding fuel into that engine and they could not stop this, hence they were wasting what precious fuel that had left as it was leaking through the engine and down into the dark Atlantic.

5hrs 36 minutes into the flight – The nightmare begins as the remain engine shuts down because of fuel starvation, they are still 65 miles from touch down, without engine power, and also no primary source of electrical power. The aircraft if equipped with a “ram air turbine” which basically is deployed from under the aircraft and, it looks like a large fan and the wind turns it to provide essential power for critical sensor and instruments to be able to fly the aircraft. However there was only emergency lighting in the passenger cabin, and the aircraft had no hydraulic power to operate the flaps to slow it down, and no reverse thrust or hydraulic breaks to stop it on the runway.

Military air traffic controllers at Lajes had to track the aircraft on radar and tell the pilots exactly where they were and to guide them towards the airfield. l say guide them as the huge aircraft was now a glider, Captain Piche flew the aircraft while the co-pilot monitored the rate of descent, which was 2,000 feet a minute. This meant that they had approx. 15 minutes to land, or either ditch into the dark Atlantic Ocean.

6hrs 01 minute into the flight – The crew sighted the air base, but had to execute a series of 360 degree turns to lose air speed and altitude if they were to successfully line up with Runway 33 at Lajes.

6hrs 06 minutes into the flight – The plane was now lined up with the runway, and on its final descent, going faster than normal, they manually unlocked the landing gear, the air speed was still too high, but they had no flaps to slow it down before landing.

At 6hrs 11 minutes the aircraft touched down hard at 200 knots, a normal landing speed is 140 knots, the aircraft bounced back into the air, and touched down again 2,800 feet down the runway, it had 7,600 feet of runway left in which to stop. With the operation of emergency brakes, all eight tires burst, in fact most were ground into the tarmac, the aircraft stopped 200 feet from the end of the runway. Everybody evacuated using the slides, and only 16 people suffered minor injuries during the evacuation.

One final thought – In theory the outcome should have been much worse, and the track for the flight that night from Toronto to Lisbon should have taken a more northerly route over the Atlantic. However the flight was re-routed at the last minute by air traffic control, via a more southerly route over the Azores because of congestion over the northerly tracks that night. Had the flight takes its original track, it would have had to ditch into the North Atlantic. The photos below show the aircraft the morning after the incredible glide into Lajes, still on the runway with all the slides deployed, photo 2 shows the brakes and tires which were ground into the airports runway, and photo 3 the tracks for the aircraft showing the original route and the route that it was changed to.

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Happy Easter

Today is Good Friday, here in the USA, Good Friday, and Easter Monday are just regular working days. The only religious observance here is Easter Sunday. So let’s look at the meaning, and the different customs observed during Easter. We start with the word “Easter” it is named after Eastre, the Angle-Saxon goddess of Spring, and many of the Easter observances and customs are a “salute to spring” marking re-birth.

People celebrate Easter according to their beliefs and their religious denominations, Christians commemorate Good Friday as the day that Jesus Christ died, and Easter Sunday as the day that he was resurrected. On Easter Sunday many children wake up to find that the Easter Bunny has left them Easter Eggs. Eggs were originally given to celebrate Easter or springtime As such, Easter eggs are common during the religious season of Easter. In Christianity, they symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus, and also an egg appears to be like the stone of a tomb. A bird hatches from an egg, full of life; similarly, the Easter egg, for Christians, is also a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave. In many parts of the world the Easter egg is beautifully decorated, photo 1 and 2 below show embroidered Easter eggs from the Ukraine, and eggs from the Czech Republic that have been decorated b y boiling with onion skins. Egg rolling is also a traditional Easter egg game, originally in the United Kingdom, and Germany,  children traditionally roll eggs down hillsides at Easter. This tradition was taken to the United States by European settlers, and continues to this day each Easter on the White House lawn, in Washington DC. And finally photo3 shows the world’s largest Easter egg, which was made in Belgium by the Guylian chocolate company in 2005. The egg by the way weighed 1200 Kilos (2646 lbs)…

1 KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA World's Biggest Easter Egg Goes On Show

Call that a Landing

These past few days the stories have been long ones, so tonight is a shorter story– The photo is of a Trident aircraft. These were flown by BEA, which became British Airways, and were flown during the 1970’s and 80’s. They were a British made aircraft, built by Hawker Siddeley, and powered by Rolls Royce engines. But they had one problem, pilots who flew the Trident had a nickname for them “grippers” as they were a beast to lift off the ground, and when they landed, because they were so tail heavy, they landed hard, no soft three point landings for a Trident. One day there was a new first officer (co-pilot) on a check flight. And after landing the airline had a policy that required the first officer to stand at the cockpit door, while the passengers exited, smile, and give them a “Thank you for flying with us”. Well on this particular flight into Manchester, it was raining, nothing new there, with a strong cross wind, and the first officer, who was making the landing, really had nothing on his side from the weather department to help him. Well he hammered the Trident onto the runway so hard that items from the overhead compartments spewed out into the aisle, and on to a few people as well.

In light of his hard landing, the first officer had difficulty looking the passengers in the eye as he stood by the cockpit door to smile at the passengers as they left the aircraft. All the while he was expecting a passenger would have a smart comment to make about the landing. However, it seemed that all the passengers were either too shell shocked, or were just being very British and not wanting to say anything about it.

Finally, everyone had exited except for this little old lady who came walking up the aisle ever so slowly towards the front. When she arrived at the exit door, she looked at the first officer and said “Sonny, do you mind if l ask you a question?” – Why no, not at all, said the first officer. “Tell me did we just land, or were we bloody shot down?” The Captain, who was normally a stern character, and was visibly not happy with his first officers landing, had a smirk on his face that lasted for the rest of the day.


The Vernal Equinox

Last week we celebrated the first day of spring, or vernal equinox, the days now start to get longer, the weather starts to get warmer, and you can almost feel yourself unfolding after the long clutch of winter. Everywhere you look, you see growth and renewal of flowers and leaves on the trees. Well everybody in the UK is now shouting “You got that wrong” in fact here in the USA we could say the same as there is a blizzard tracking through the Northern States, and it’s nippy down here in Florida where we are averaging 67 degrees for the next three days, about 15 degrees below normal. So what exactly is the “Vernal Equinox?” Well the term Vernal Equinox, is Latin, and the words mean “spring” and “equal night” respectively. The equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 each year and signals the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the autumnal equinox—the first day of autumn—in the Southern Hemisphere. This year it was March 20th,   at precisely 7:02am, U.S. Eastern daylight time, that the Sun crossed directly over the Earth’s equator. Because the Sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinox. I say “about equal” as it depends exactly where you are located on the surface of the Earth. The date is also significant in Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox. (it was a full moon yesterday – 25th March). It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox. Below are some photos of other traditions celebrated around the world, on or around the time of the vernal equinox:

Photo 1 –  British surf boarders in Gloucestershire brave the Severn Bore, a tidal surge that reaches its highest heights around the spring equinox on the River Severn, due to the movements of the spring sun and full moon.

Photo 2 –  Torch-bearing Kurds gather in the countryside to celebrate “Nowruz” near Aqrah, Iraq. on March 20. Here the vernal equinox festival of Nowruz is marked by fire, dancing, music—and journeys out into the wilderness. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, this traditional Kurdish celebration had been banned. In 2003 Iraq’s new Shiite leaders declared the day a public holiday.

Photo 3 – Traditionally costumed figures parade on stilts in Warsaw as part of the Polish celebration of the vernal equinox. Another Polish equinox custom is to carry an effigy of Marzanna—a goddess associated with winter—from house to house, then strip it, set it aflame, and drown it. Though originally performed on the fourth Sunday of the Christian period of Lent, the Marzanna drowning is now carried out by children on the first day of spring—the vernal equinox.

Photo 4 – And finally:  Driving a tractor over an Afghan wrestler is one way to celebrate the spring equinox festival of Nowruz in Afghanistan, in a Kabul stadium! Until 2001 the public celebration of Nowruz was banned by the ruling Taliban. Present-day celebrations of Nowruz in Afghanistan now feature tournaments and displays of strength.

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Yesterday we had a heavy spring thunderstorm here in Orlando that stopped play at the Bay Hill golf classic, In most places around the world the occurrence of a thunder and lightning storm are not common, they are normally associated with hot and humid days, or when cold air hits warm air, as was the case yesterday here in Florida. But in Venezuela it’s the most common thing in the world! As a matter of fact, there is one place in particular that has so many storms that it is considered the world’s longest continuous thunder and lightning storm.

The Catatumbo Lightning, as it’s called, is estimated to produce over 1,000,000 bolts of lightning every year, and since the storm never changes position, if you live in the region, you’d be able to see every single one.  The intensity of the Catatumbo Lightning is rarely seen outside of tropical storms. The bolts of lightning can be seen up to 400 kilometers away. Not only is the storm active for at least 150 days each year, but on those days when it is active, it can last upwards of 10 hours per day. As a result of its consistency and stationary position, the storm has also been dubbed “The Maracaibo Beacon”, and has been helping with the navigational efforts of ships for centuries. Aside from being really something to watch and providing navigational assistance, the phenomenon is one of the world’s largest producers of ozone. With all of this lightning, one might be inclined to think that there would be copious amounts of thunder. In the case of the Catatumbo Lightning, this is not the case. As a matter of fact, there is very little thunder to be heard at all! The reason for this is that the lightning is going from cloud to cloud, and only very rarely reaches the ground. So the big question is why does it happen? On its way to Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, the Catatumbo River passes through a very large bog, decaying the organic materials found there. As the materials break down, huge clouds of ionized gasses (specifically methane gas) are released, and are carried to great heights after colliding with the strong winds coming from the Andes Mountains. Due to the excessive amount of gas being released, along with the high winds, the clouds can be upwards of 40,000 feet high. A study conducted by the University of Los Angeles, suggests another contributing factor to the storm may be the uranium present in the bedrock. It was recently thought that the storm may have stopped permanently, when from January until April 2010 there were no lightning bolts lighting up the sky. There had been a drought in the region, thereby not breaking down the organic materials in the bog. Thankfully the drought ended and the amazing spectacle has resumed. And lastly, while the storm has proven to be wonderfully helpful to sailors in their navigational efforts throughout the ages, it has also been horribly detrimental. In 1595 Sir Francis Drake set out to take the city of Maracaibo by storm (pun most definitely intended). He had intended to come under the cover of darkness, but the soldiers guarding the city were able to spot him when the region’s relentless lightning gave him away. The storm has become so famous in Venezuela that it has been depicted in the flag, as well as the coat of arms for the state of Zulia, which is where Lake Maraciabo is found.
By the way the golf classic continued this morning, and was won by Tiger Woods…

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Happy Sunday everyone, a religious theme to today’s blog, every person in the UK will know the very patriotic hymn “Jerusalem,” we all sung it at school, in church, and it’s sung every year in that very British Institution “Last Night of the Proms”. But do you know what the words of the hymn are referring to?  To remind you, here are the first two versus:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Well there are ancient myths that as a child, Jesus spent time in England, courtesy of his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who was, by legend. a trader with business ties in England. The places that they visited are written down as Glastonbury, Penzance and Falmouth in the South West of England. So in the hymn “those feet” refer to Jesus’s feet and how he walked on England’s pleasant pastures. It is said that Glastonbury was where Joseph and Jesus first visited, they arrived in Glastonbury by boat over the flooded Somerset Levels. On disembarking Joseph stuck his wooden staff into the ground and it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn, (or Holy Thorn – see photo below). This is said to explain a hybrid hawthorn tree that only grows within a few miles of Glastonbury, and which flowers twice annually, once in spring and again around Christmas time (depending on the weather). Each year a sprig of thorn is cut, by the local Anglican vicar and the eldest child from the local St John’s School, and then is taken to London to be presented to Her Majesty Queen (see photo 2 below).

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True or a lie?

According to myth, a young George Washington confessed to cutting down a cherry tree by proclaiming, “I cannot tell a lie.” So tonight’s story asks the question “Isaac Newton and the Apple” is it “true or a lie?”.

In school most of us will have read the story about Isaac Newton, an Englishman, who, in the late 17th century was responsible for discovering the laws of motion, the speed of sound, the law of cooling, and calculus. But his most famous discovery is “Newton’s law of gravity”. The story is told that Newton, a mathematician and professor of physics, was sitting under the shade of an apple tree, when an apple dropped from a branch and hit him right on the head. Newton’s first instinct was not to shout “ouch” and look up, but the apple falling onto his head gave him the idea about gravity, and he went on to formulate the entire set of universal laws governing the motion of gravitating bodies, a theory so sound that it went unchallenged and unmodified for over 200 years.

Well l hate to tell you but it’s a lie…..Now Newton did indeed discover the law of gravity, but the apple falling from a tree had nothing to do with it. The truth, it was a professor called John Conduitt who first told the story about the apple some 60 years after Newton wrote his theory about the Law of gravity. The apple was used by Conduitt, when describing Newton’s law of gravity to students, he used the apple as a metaphor to illustrate the way gravity works in order for the students to fully understand the theory, and the explanation stuck. And what ever happened to Isaac newton? Well he spent the best part of his life formulating and perfecting his theories until he had a nervous breakdown, and finally died, insane from mercury poisoning at the age of 84, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, London in 1727.

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Fun Facts About The Big Apple

Did you know that in New York City, more than 26,000 people live in each square mile? Or that the island of Manhattan was purchased from Native Americans for about $24? And that New York City is the largest city in the United States. So you have probably guessed that tonight is fun facts about New York City, I hope you find them interesting:

As mentioned above, Dutch explorer Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from the Algonquin Indian tribe for trinkets and tools worth $24.00, the city’s first known name was New Amsterdam, which referred to the southern tip of Manhattan which was a Dutch trading port. In 2011 the census showed that there were 8,244,910 people live in New York City.

A New Yorker travels an average of 40 minutes to work each day, and more than 48 percent of New York City’s residents, over the age of 5, speak a language other than English at home. The average sale price of a 2 bedroomed apartment in Manhattan is a whopping $1.49 million. By the way if you just want a hotel room, the average daily room rate for a hotel in New York is $267. If you want a meal in the city, there are more than 18,600 restaurants and eating establishments, and the average cost for a dinner, including a drink, tax and tip, is $43.50

New York’s Yellow Cabs are yellow because John Hertz (founder of the New York Cab Company, and also of the Hertz car rental company) learned from a study that yellow was the easiest colour for the eye to spot, and more than 12,700 licensed taxis work the street of the city. The Federal Reserve Bank on New York’s Wall Street contains vaults that are 80 feet beneath the bank, and hold one quarter of the world’s gold bullion.

There are many legends that exist about the origin of New York City’s nickname, the Big Apple, most historians agree that it can be traced back to a writer who covered horse racing in the 1920s, where the word “apple” was used in reference to the many racing courses in and around New York City. Apple referred to the prizes being awarded for the races – as these were important races, the rewards were substantial. In The Morning Telegraph, he wrote that stable hands often referred to New York as the Big Apple, meaning that any thoroughbred that raced in New York had reached the pinnacle of racing. And lastly the phrase “New York, the City that never sleeps” comes from “a poem of New York” written in 1930 by a Spanish gentleman called Federico Garcia Lorca. He immigrated to New York from Spain in 1929, he died in 1936, and the poem was published posthumously in 1942.


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